Over 1,200 people gathered at the starting line this morning for the Autism Speaks 4th of July 5k to celebrate our nation’s birthday by raising funds and racing fast in Potomac, Maryland. The event has raised over $230,000 and counting thus far to support Autism Speaks' mission to change the future for all who struggle with autism. The race also hosted “virtual” runners who participated from vacation spots in Bethany Beach, New Orleans, Oregon and even Greece, England and Armenia.
Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland’s 8th District addressed the crowd before the race and took a snapshot with dedicated volunteers and kids. In addition, local weatherman Topper Shutt of USA9 News took the stage, a media spokesperson who always makes an annual appearance to let participants know what to expect for their race day forecast.
The success of the race would not have been possible without this year’s top sponsors, BOWA and PGMI, as well as Darcars who served as the lead car for the 5k run. Top teams like Richie’s Racers led by Autism Speaks Board Member Steve Kirstein, Owen’s Turn led by Autism Speaks Board Member Ed Nutall and Kerness Crew led by Jay Kerness among other top fundraisers, Sharon Zackula and George Assimakopoullos, played a critical role in the organization’s effort to increase awareness and funds. Last but certainly not least, the Eldwick Sharks had the largest team, once again, with 91 participants.
This year marked the 15th anniversary of the event that began because of Race Director and Autism Speaks Staff Member Susan Pereles, an aunt who wanted to make a difference when she first learned her nephew Shant had been diagnosed with autism. In the last 15 years, the Autism Speaks 4th of July 5k has raised over $3 million to support the cause and Susan’s contagious passion is catching on, particularly to the next generation. Her son Noah and daughter Grace collectively raised $12,000 in a friendly sibling fundraising competition. Clearly, the 5k has made an impact and will continue to do so, as community members are already looking forward to crossing the finish line in 2016.